As some of Oklahoma's most popular hunting seasons approach, prospective hunters and those looking to introduce others to the outdoors should remember that it is easier now than ever to get involved in the sport of hunting.
As of Nov. 1, anyone age 30 or younger who is not hunter education certified may buy an apprentice-designated hunting license and go hunting under the supervision of an adult mentor hunter. Mentor hunters must be at least 18 years old and hunter education certified or exempt as well as licensed or exempt. Additionally, as of Nov. 1, prospective hunters ages nine and younger no longer are eligible to take the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's test for hunter education certification. Instead, they are able to buy an apprentice-designated hunting license and hunt with a mentor. Kids under 10 are still allowed to attend a hunter education course, but are not eligible to test.
"The new law fosters mentorship for new sportsmen and opens the door for young people to gain firsthand experience in safe hunting, since under the apprentice-designated license hunters must be accompanied by an adult hunter," said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Mentorship is the best way to learn how to hunt."
The apprentice-designated hunting license was introduced in 2007 to help prospective hunters gain experience in hunting under the supervision of a mentor without having to first complete the hunter education course. It allows responsible adult hunters the opportunity to take friends and new hunters into the outdoors more readily, without them having to first complete what was then a lengthy, full-day class.
"Since then, gaining hunting experience has become more and more of a reality for so many people through the apprentice-designated hunting license," Meek said.
For big game hunting, anyone with an apprentice-designated license - and all youth age nine and younger regardless of hunter ed certification - must be accompanied. Accompanying adult hunters must be within arm's length of the apprentice hunter or close enough to take immediate control of the firearm or bow. For small game hunting, accompanying hunters must be within sight of and able to communicate with the apprentice in a normal voice without aid. When a hunting license is not required, such as is the case for resident youth under age 16 and nonresident youth under 14, apprentice hunters must still be accompanied.
"Another way we're getting people outdoors is through our online hunter education course," Meek said.
While learning to hunt under an apprentice-designated license is a good opportunity, Meek says taking the Wildlife Department's hunter education course is still an important plan of action, especially for those who plan to continue hunting in the future and those who plan to hunt out of state.
One of the most popular and most effective ways to obtain hunter education certification is through the Department's online course. By logging on to wildlifedepartment.com, prospective hunters can take the course and test at their own leisure from their own home. Meek says the online course is just as effective for teaching safe and ethical hunting as a physical course that takes all day to attend and complete.
"You can log on to wildlifedepartment.com right now, complete the course at your own pace and then print your hunter education card off when you are finished," Meek said. "The course covers the exact same material as our physical classes cover, but you can sit down with a mentor and learn it together."
"We want to pave the way for people to get outdoors and learn about our hunting heritage, not stand in the way," Meek said. "By making it simpler for newcomers to get involved in hunting, we are actually creating more conservationists for the future, since hunters and anglers are the primary source of funding for wildlife conservation through their purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and certain sporting goods."
Those 31 years old and older are exempt from hunter education requirements and therefore can purchase regular hunting licenses without the apprentice designation.
For more information about hunting in Oklahoma, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide," available free online at wildlifedepartment.com or in print anywhere hunting licenses are sold.